When Brands Meet the Arts

  • Art/
  • Luxury/
  • Retail/
By Louise Wong

In Hong Kong last November, Takashi Murakami seemed baffled by the response to his collaboration with Louis Vuitton, which featured his take on the brand’s signature monogram: “But I just changed the colour,” he said. The collaboration translated to spectacular direct sales for the company.

When brands meet the arts, sometimes it is to treat the latter as a commodity. But Louis Vuitton’s other approaches to art also engage people beyond its consumer base. In 2008, Hong Kong became the brand’s first Asian location for its Espace Louis Vuitton, an in-store gallery that places importance on including works by local as well as regional artists and designers. The brand’s Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation, a legally separate and non-profit entity, then brought an exhibition, “A Passion For Creation” to the Hong Kong Museum of Art in 2009. Although slightly overshadowed by the works of art world luminaries and the might of Murakami’s collaboration, the show also featured a section curated by Philip Tinari, including familiar local artists Adrian WongLeung Chi-woLee Kit and Tsang Kin-wah. The foundation is expected to open its own permanent space, designed by Frank Gehry, dedicated to contemporary art in Paris next year.


Similarly, the Fondation Cartier is located in a building designed by another “starchitect”, Jean Nouvel. Its non-profit program is committed to contemporary art but finds links with other forms such as the performing arts. Based in Paris since 1994, its exhibitions and collection travel overseas to enhance its international profile.

One notable travelling exhibition was Chanel’s Mobile Art, housed in a container designed by Zaha Hadid. The works by contemporary artists were all inspired by the brand’s iconic bag, some using a more literal interpretation than others. After stints in Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York, the pavilion was eventually donated to the Arab World Institut

Chanel's Mobile Art pavilion brought art - and a temporary gallery space by Zaha Hadid - to Hong Kong, as well as other world cities.
Photo courtesy of Gary Wong Photography via Flickr.
Converse embraced the urban context of Hong Kong by using blank walls as a canvas for artwork.
Artwork by Charles Munka. Photo by Jonathan Leijonhufvud, courtesy of Converse Shanghai.

The convergence of art, architecture and luxury brands embody modern elements of arts patronage. At best, the art is developed independently of the brand. The value for brands is to provide an experience that extends beyond the brand itself.

Samsung applies its technological expertise to the art experience at the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul, funded by the Samsung Foundation of Culture. Comprised of three different but connected buildings by Jean NouvelRem Koolhaas and Mario Botta, the museum’s innovative approach includes presenting classic antiquities and contemporary art using modern technology.

When brands embrace art through their cultural or corporate social responsibility programs, the deep level of engagement is long-term and far-reaching.

The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative finds gifted young artists from around the world and pairs them with artistic masters for a year of creative collaboration. Since it was established in 2002, the program has covered dance, film, literature, music, theatre, visual arts and architecture. Intended to ensure “the world’s artistic heritage is passed on to the next generation,” it has included partnerships with the likes of Pritzker Prize winner Kazuyo SejimaZhang YimouMartin ScorceseGilberto GilWilliam Kentridge and Anish Kapoor.

The value for brands is to provide an experience that extends beyond the brand itself.

This differs from the approach by brands that use art as a marketing tool. Each has its merits and yields different results.

For Converse in Hong Kong, its “Wall to Wall” initiative uses neglected city walls and public spaces as canvas for street art murals. The temporary installations by Hong Kong-based and international artists fit seamlessly with the brand’s image and make an impact within the very urban landscape that is the backdrop for its street style fashion.

The relationship between brand and art has evolved beyond the traditional sponsorship model that posits brand logos at events, exhibitions and festivals in exchange for much-needed financial support. The time for brands has never been as opportune. 19,000 people visited the first ArtHK compared to more than 60,000 at Art Basel Hong Kong in 2013. The Hong Kong Museum of Art’s Warhol Retrospective attracted 250,000 people. However, brands have a choice in how they engage their audiences and the arts is one relationship that needs careful consideration.

In a city like Hong Kong, where the systemic and institutional challenges have long been a point of contention, it is critical to have diverse modes of support for the arts. For better or for worse, the marriage between commerce and creativity is a reality and, like any relationship, it is the difficult art of negotiating a relevant compromise that is a true measure of its success.


— Louise Wong is the director of Lancashire Road, a boutique communications consultancy focused on the arts, culture and creative industries. She is also editor and co-founder of Creative City, a platform that promotes Hong Kong’s creative communities.

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